The Federal Government Needs to Embrace Open Standards

Posted by Brian Paget, Technical Director for Public Sector

As a long-standing supporter of the open source community, Adobe appreciates the intent of the OMB’s new draft policy on the federal government’s use of reusable software code. The long-rumored policy, known as the Federal Source Code Policy – Achieving Efficiency, Transparency and Innovation through Reusable and Open Source Software, reminds us of the importance of understanding the different roles of mixing shared development costs and commercial software in the federal government’s overall IT strategy.

In a mature IT governance structure, commercial off the shelf and custom integration both play an important role for the federal government. Balancing the use of these differing approaches is critical for the successful deployment of IT systems across the federal government enterprise. Swinging the pendulum too far in one direction or the other based upon ideology rather than program requirements is detrimental to the health of government IT programs.

Adobe believes strongly that open standards play a critical role in fostering innovation and aims to build products that are open, interoperable and standards compliant. Adobe developers also contribute to a number of open projects and standards. Dr. Roy Fielding, Senior Principal Scientist at Adobe and co-founder of the Apache HTTP Server Project, is a pioneer in the open source community and has consulted with the U.S. Government about the development of the modern World Wide Web infrastructure, innovation, policy and a wide-range of technology issues. In February, Adobe also released the Digital Design Templates for Government, an open source package that enables public sector website managers to quickly deploy U.S. Digital Service and 18F draft U.S. Web Design Standards.

At its core, the proposed OMB policy aims to ensure that the government utilizes cost effective solutions for given requirements by addressing software utilized by the federal government; whether commercially acquired, developed in-house or from a contractor. At Adobe, we support the spirit of a collaborative and open development policy and believe that it will assist government in saving taxpayer money by more effectively leveraging the investment that is made in customizing and configuring software and reducing duplication.

Where appropriate we would encourage the government to make available descriptions, contact information, and access to reusable code that can be re-used across agencies in a model similar to This would allow solutions providers such as Adobe and others to collaborate with government to create a repository of re-usable components shared amongst agencies rather than having each agency pay to have these components re-built. This registry would encourage re-use while still ensuring that code is appropriately secured and developed through government vetted resources.

Beyond development, important principles of open and interoperable standards should be applied. Open standards ensure that software developed by one vendor can effectively interoperate with software developed by a government agency or another software vendor. This is even more important as we move to cloud services where software is run and maintained outside the walls of Federal Agencies. Open Standards enables a level of interoperability that is critical to successful deployment of software in government and provides assurances beyond those provided by open source.

Federal CIO leadership should vigorously ensure as much re-use as possible and embrace the use of open standards to fully realize the potential of cloud and increase competition among providers of cloud technologies, helping to reduce technology ecosystem lock-in. Over time, this will lead to increased choice and lower prices for consumers.